Goals by Ben Spencer and Paul Arriola, both off
rebounds, gave the USA a 2-0 win over El Salvador in their Concacaf Under-20 Championship playoff Saturday in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It will join Mexico, Panama and Honduras as the Concacaf
representatives in New Zealand.
Spencer put the USA ahead late in the first half when he scored on a header of a rebound of his own header off the crossbar. Arriola scored his insurance goal when his weak roller trickled past four Salvadoran defenders and goalkeeper Carlos Canas into the goal.
The key play of the game came when goalkeeper Zack Steffen dived to his right and stopped Jose Villavicencio's penalty kick early in the second half with the USA leading 1-0. It was one of the few Salvadoran chances of the game.
The USA, on the other hand, should have done much more, given its edge in possession for most of the game and man advantage for the last 10 minutes after Andres Flores' straight red card. But its best chances were off Emerson Hyndman set pieces, on the first goal by Spencer and a header by Matt Miazga in the second half.
1. USA would have been lost without Hyndman.
The USA can be very thankful that English club Fulham released Hyndman for the tournament. The 18-year-old Hyndman has only been playing sporadically since Felix Magath was fired as manager but he is very much part of the Cottagers' first 18. They will be waiting anxiously on word of the injury that forced Hyndman out of the game with 20 minutes to play.
Almost the entire U.S. attack on the ground flowed through Hyndman, Schellas Hyndman's grandson who was capped by Jurgen Klinsmann last summer within weeks of debuting for Fulham. And he took all the set pieces, setting up the first goal.
It was too bad Junior Flores was injured in the second game, the 1-0 loss to Panama, as he was never able to establish himself back in the starting lineup. He did help settle the USA and provide a spark of the bench, triggering the play that led to the winning goal against Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday and putting the ball in the area on the mad scramble that led to Arriola's goal.
2. Horrible field conditions are no excuse.
Otherwise, the USA looked very ordinary throughout the tournament, failing to find any rhythm or build any confidence in its game. The field conditions in Kingston and Montego Bay were horrible but they can't be used as an excuse.
For a group that is supposed to represent the best and brightest of American soccer's next generation, its touches were often shockingly bad and the paucity of ideas on the break quite depressing.
In the confines of MLS, players like Romain Gall and Tommy Thompson will likely flourish, but they have a long way to go toward becoming the prototype wide player with skill and cunning -- and yes, speed -- the senior team so lacks. Even after showing some spark earlier in the tournament, they were largely quiet against El Salvador.
3. On to New Zealand with Rubio and Zelalem?
This was a team that was assembled from far and wide with dual nationals: the excellent 17-year-old English-American center back Cameron Carter-Vickers from Tottenham, the Polish-American Miazga, the French-American Gall and the likes of Fernando Arce Jr., the son of a Mexican international of the same name on the bench.
Another player with multiple options, Arsenal starlet Gedion Zelalem, has committed to the USA, but there was no way the Gunners would release him for the Concacaf tournament. A trip Down Under is scheduled for March, so Ramos would love to get Zelalem released and into the U-20s' midfield as soon as possible.
Having a potentially bigger impact on the team, though, is Rubio Rubin, the 18-year-old FC Utrecht forward who is even farther along in his rookie pro season in Europe than any American in recent memory. He'd give the U-20s a player they desperately need: a player up top who can hold the ball, play-make and combine to create chances like he does consistently in the Eredivisie.
The only question mark will be whether Rubio is too good for the U-20s and Klinsmann will want to keep him for himself and the Gold Cup that begins two weeks after the Under-20 World Cup ends.
TRIVIA. Canas was the third straight American (and fourth in six games) to face the USA in goal. Indeed, seven of the 12 Concacaf U-20 teams started goalkeepers out of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, six Americans, plus Canadian Marco Carducci. Canas hails from the Manassas, Va., same town as fellow Salvadoran-American Flores of the USA. Yet another Manassas product: Henry Lopez, whose goal for Guatemala knocked the USA out of the 2011 Under-20 World Cup.
Jan. 24 in Montego Bay
USA 2 El Salvador 0. Goals: Spencer 37, Arriola 68.
USA -- Steffen; Moore, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Requejo; Thompson, Hyndman (Gooch 70), Canouse, Gall (J.Flores 61); Jamieson, Spencer (Arriola 46).
El Salvador -- Canas; A.Flores, Moreno, Tamacas, Canales; Barahona, C.Flores (Hernandez 46), Orellana, Guardado (Merino 65); Villavicencio (Amaya 85), Perez.